Asking Neighbors to Practice Social Distancing | Roost
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Practicing social distancing: Staying safe in an apartment building

How to ask your neighbors to safely social distance in shared spaces

COVID-19 has made the world a complicated place. To keep safe, we’ve had to adapt, wearing face masks where necessary and practice social distancing by keeping six feet apart. But not everyone has been following these guidelines, and if you have neighbors who are not practicing social distancing, it can be tricky. Depending on your lease, you may be living near them for a long time. When you pass them in the hallway or share an elevator with them, how do you talk to your neighbors who aren’t socially distancing?

Here are some tips on what to say – and how to say it.

1. Start with giving the benefit of the doubt

It’s easy to criticize others, but don’t assume your neighbors are not implementing recommended health behaviors most of the time. Think about why the person may be moving closer to you. Maybe they just forgot? Are they busy thinking about other things? Or, perhaps they know your feelings about wearing masks? In most cases, they’re not trying to be malicious, so try not to judge them too harshly.

2. Be kind in your approach when possible

Nowadays, people’s nerves are a bit shot, to say the least. COVID-19 has affected nearly all aspects of our lives, and people have lost their jobs, gotten sick (or know loved ones who have), and been trapped inside for months at a time. They’re bound to be stressed out and overwhelmed. Again, they’re probably not trying to be difficult, so try not to react harshly. Speak gently and with a kind tone of voice. You don’t want to start trouble or come across as angry, so think about your tone and word choice and remember, when in doubt, be nice when discussing how to practice social distancing.

3. What to say to your neighbors about practicing social distancing

So, you’re stressed out and your neighbor is stressed out. You’re trying to follow guidelines and be safe, and you want your neighbors to do the same. If you notice them keeping their distance, then that’s great. If not, think carefully about what you want to say to them (and how you want to say it). Remember, tone of voice is as important as word choice. Here are some examples of situations where you may need to speak up and what to say to them. 

What to say when you cross paths with your neighbor in common spaces
There are lots of places where you may run into your neighbors: the hallway, the laundry room, common areas, etc. So, as much as you might want to avoid your neighbors, there are times when it’s unavoidable. If they’re keeping their distance, then you won’t have to say a word to them if you don’t want to. But if they’re not practicing social distancing, here are a few examples of what to say politely to minimize any feather-ruffling.

  • “Excuse me, would it be OK if you backed up a little bit? I’m just making sure we’re all safe.”
  • “I always try to stay six feet apart when I’m out and about.”
  • “I’m really concerned about my immune system. Can you please keep your social distance?”

What to say when your neighbor has a party or social gathering

Though our world is in turmoil, people still try their best to remain social, whether it’s by using social media or Zoom calls, having socially distant dates, or having parties and gatherings. Your neighbors might have barbecues, game nights, or other social gatherings. At these times, you may want to have a word with your neighbors to get them to practice social distancing:

  • “Hey, we’re your neighbors and have serious health conditions that make us vulnerable to COVID-19. Could you do us a favor and ask your guests to wear masks in common areas? And, keep to the state limits for gatherings?”

This is just a sample of what you might say. Take it as your starting point and tweak the language as you see fit. Try to hit all your points and remember our other tips as you decide what to say.

4. Remember you can only control your own actions

At the end of the day, we can’t force anyone to do something they’re not going to do on their own — even if you happen to be an expert in public health! At times like these, it’s good to remember a few things:

  • Take all the steps you can to manage your behavior. You know the recommendations and regulations, and the only thing you can really control is your own behavior and actions. If you do your best to stay six feet away from your neighbors, then you’ll be in good shape in most situations, even if they aren’t quite following the guidelines. Do your best to be responsible and try to communicate your needs with others clearly and politely. 
  • Be patient and clear with your communication. This is pretty good advice for any situation, but it’s especially relevant in any situation where tensions are high and people are sensitive. You have a legitimate need, and you want to be sure you communicate it clearly to your neighbor. At the same time, they may be upset or nervous and unsure of your intentions. Be patient with them. Repeat yourself if necessary and answer any questions they may have. Communication is key, and the best way to communicate is clearly and calmly.

5.  Avoid going nuclear when talking about how to practice social distancing

Again, most people are pretty darn stressed out these days, more so than usual. It’s a safe bet that you’re a little stressed out yourself! The important thing to remember in this circumstance is to remain calm. If you’re concerned about getting sick and your neighbors are being difficult (not listening or following guidelines), you’re likely to be a bit on edge. If that’s the case, then you should remember to take a deep breath and not let yourself get out of control. Blowing up or getting mad will only make the situation worse, so remember to REMAIN CALM. You won’t get anywhere if you lose your temper, and you’ll be likely to make the situation worse. Remember, if you get mad, then the other person will likely get mad, too, and then your calm conversation will turn into a shouting match. When people get upset, not much gets accomplished, and things can get much worse. Just stay calm and focused, and you’ll set yourself up for success.

Why it’s important to ask your neighbor to social distance

It’s better for you, and it’s better for them, frankly. Social-distancing guidelines help prevent the spread of COVID-19. In fact, recent studies show an increase in cases in some states, as US infections have topped over 9 million in October. The pandemic is not going away soon, unfortunately, so we have to do what we can to protect ourselves and each other. One way to help keep yourself safe is to socially distance yourself from other people. This practice works best if others do it as well, so getting your neighbors to follow the practice is important, too. You’ll both be doing your part to help slow the speed of infection.

What happens if my neighbors don’t respond the way I’d like?

First, you’ll want to remember that your neighbors have needs, too. They’re probably scared or confused by the pandemic, and you want to keep their feelings in mind. While you have your needs, you want to respect those of your neighbor. Maybe they’re feeling disconnected or lonely. If so, they might want to get closer to someone. They don’t mean harm. They’re just looking to fulfill their need. If you talk to them and ask them questions, you can figure out what they want or need, and you can come up with a compromise that works for both of you.

If, after you speak to them nicely, your neighbors still don’t respect your needs and don’t practice social distancing, then your best bet may be to talk to your property manager. Hopefully, you can work everything out by talking directly to your neighbor, but that might not always be a success. In these cases, you can go to your landlord or property manager. They’ll be a neutral third party and can help resolve the situation. They’ll want their tenants to be safe, so they’ll help enforce guidelines that are good for everyone, and they can deal with a tenant who might be reluctant to follow guidelines or, in some cases, angry or upset.

Use these techniques when talking to your neighbor about other stuff, too

Conflict isn’t easy. Working out disagreements with your parents or your significant other is one thing, but dealing with a neighbor, who is probably closer to a stranger than a friend, can be even trickier. The tips above will help you talk to them about how to practice social distancing, but you can also apply most of these tips to other situations. Follow the tips above to help you deal with conflicts and resolve issues with your neighbors in a great way for everyone.

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Last Updated: November 3rd, 2020